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PC Gaming Video Cards - A Guide to the Nvidia GeForce 8 Series

by: Finn Orfano ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Have you ever gone shopping for a new video card and wondered why there are so many makes and models out there? This brief guide was written to help you better understand the differences in the GeForce 8 series video cards.

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    The GeForce 8 Series

    Every PC gamer should know that no matter how great your computer might be, what often makes the most difference is your video card. Even with a good processor and lots of RAM, a newer PC with a weak video card won’t run some games as well as an older PC with a good video card.

    I recently upgraded my PC from an Nvidia GeForce 8400 GS to an 8600 GT and saw a pretty decent increase in performance on a variety of games. In doing so, I made quite a bit of research into the Nvidia GeForce line of video cards, and this article will detail the differences between the lineup in the GeForce 8 series.

    What makes the GeForce 8 series stand out is that it supports DirectX 10, which is the graphic system used by Microsoft in Windows. Also, Windows Vista was built around utilizing the advanced features of the GeForce 8 series. Just upgrading my video card from an 8400 GS to an 8600 GT made my Graphics rating go from a 3.6 to a 5.9 in Vista. Finally, the 8 series uses PureVideo HD technology to perfectly render high definition Blu-Ray movies.

    Here’s an overview of the Nvidia GeForce 8 series, in order of lowest to highest:

    8400 GS - This is the bottom of the line model and I don’t recommend it for gaming. It’ll help your PC get over some of the hurdles of running newer games, but for the money you’d be better off spending just a little more. This card is good if you just want the HD quality video for movies or such. You can get one for around $40.

    8500 GT – This card is only slightly better than the 8400GS in that it has faster memory bandwidth and is 128-bit instead of 64-bit. You’ll see a little better performance in games, though I wouldn’t recommend this one as a gaming card. You can get one for around $50.

    8600 GT – I bought this card for my PC because it’s in the lower middle of the price range for the GeForce 8 series. It has a 540 MHz core and a 700 MHz memory clock, compared to the 450 MHz core and 400 MHz memory clock of the 8400 GS and 8500 GT. Its memory bandwidth is double that of the 8500 GT. You can get one of these cards for less than $100.

    8600 GTS – I seriously considered getting this card, but it was a little out of my budget with a price tag of around $100, give or take. I was put off by the lack of different manufacturers for this one compared to the 8600 GT, although I knew this was a somewhat better card because it handles shaders better.

    8800 GS – This card runs around $100 and features a core clock and memory clock that are only a little better than the 8600 series. However, this card runs at 192-bit whereas they run at 128. As a result, it has increased memory bandwidth and a much higher texture fill rate. It’s actually the same card as the GeForce 9600 GSO.

    8800 GT – This is pretty much the gold standard in gaming video cards right now because it is relatively affordable and offers incredible performance. It runs around $150-200 and allows you to get the most performance out of just about any game out there. It is a 256-bit card and is a big step up from the 8800 GS.

    8800 GTS – This card retails for around $200 and offers some decent performance increase over the 8800 GT because it handles shaders better. Its memory clock is also slightly better. I’ve seen more versions of the 512 mb model than I have of this 320 mb or 640 mb one.

    8800 GTS (512 mb) – This card must be installed in pairs and connected using Nvidia’s SLI technology, which lets you run two video cards as one to double the processing power. These cards run from $150-250, depending on features, as some of them are overclocked. It has the best shading capabilities of the entire GeForce 8 series.

    8800 GTX – This card ranges in price from about $400-600 and is the better deal of the two most powerful GeForce 8 series cards. It has much of the same on-board parts as the 8800 Ultra, but runs a tad bit slower. It has a 384-bit memory interface, and its memory bandwidth is a whopping 86.4, compared to 64 for the two different 8800 GTS models.

    8800 Ultra – This card is absolutely insane. It sells for anywhere between $600-900, which is often more expensive than the rest of the PC it goes in. In terms of performance, it has a faster memory bandwidth and texture fill rate than any of the other cards, though oddly enough it has a slightly slower core clock than the 8800 GTS (512 mb) and the 8600 GTS. Personally, I’d never spend this much money on a gaming card, but there are plenty of people who have. It is only slightly better than the 8800 GTX, but costs hundreds of dollars more.

    In the end, it all comes down to how much you’re willing to pay for a killer video card. If you are on a budget, you will need to decide on a price and try to find the best deal for your money. You can often find some good factory rebates from certain manufacturers that might bring the prices of one card down to the level of the model below it. You just have to shop around for the best deal, as the prices on these video cards vary wildly between retailers.